Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Pink Shirt Day

Today is "Pink Shirt Day" in Canada.  Pink Shirt Day began in Canada in 2008, when a student was bullied for wearing a pink shirt on his first day of school.  Two seniors heard about the incident, and the next day, they not only showed up wearing pink shirts, but they encouraged other students to do so as well.  What began as a show of solidarity to one student who was being bullied, became a nationwide campaign to form a protective pink wall of support around any student that is suffering the pain of being bullied.

There are all sorts of things that we, in the Western world, do to show our support for various causes.  We wear ribbons of particular colors associated with particular illnesses, we sign petitions and re-post, re-blog and re-tweet supportive messages, we wear t-shirts with an endless supply of positive slogans on them...we try, in any way that we feel we can, to make a difference in our world. And that is a very good thing.

The neat thing about Pink Shirt Day is that it is about displaying the solidarity of community.  And community is the one way that bullying is thwarted.  It may be the only way.  We can legislate against it, holding bullies accountable on every possible level. While these are good and important measures, they all take place after the fact.  After the bullying has happened.  Community has the unique ability to meet bullying where it begins, and to step through it, surrounding the victim with a powerful wall of support.  Community can stop it as it is happening, and keep it from happening.  Often, the road to holding a bully legally responsible for his or her actions is a long, torturous, demoralizing and even humiliating one for the victim.  Community is the opposite. It confronts bullying, not by going after the bully, but by surrounding the victim with encouragement, support, positive messages and the protective, loving respect that enables the victim to stand taller, and to rest in the security of the group.

I have been the grateful, blessed recipient of this sort of protective action against bullies intent on messing with my life, my head and my heart.  I am surrounded by a strong wall of respect and care that is really quite miraculous in its ability to help me stay calm and feel grounded.  While I have called the police, and there is a measure of security there, my true strength and security comes from God, and from the people who are milling around me, telling me encouraging truths, countering the lies, guarding my reputation with their knowledge of who I am, and just simply loving me.  No one is "going after" anyone.  A community's tactics for defeating bullying does not depend on crushing the bully.  It does depend on building up the victim. On guarding the victim's heart.  If it takes ten positive statements to counter a negative one, community freely offers those ten, and even more.

As adults who grew up in the days when a bully was going to have to do his or her bullying face to face and often in the actual presence of others, it is difficult to understand the pressures that modern technology places on young people, and the ease in which a young person can be bullied, either anonymously or by a bully hiding behind the veil of social media.  Imagine giving a talk to a board room full of your peers, knowing that one of them is posting rude, derogatory comments about you to the others in the group.  How confident would you be? How would your presentation change?  Or imagine sitting at home after a long day at work and seeing a unflattering photo of you, taken that day by a co-worker, being posted and shared by dozens of people, all leaving rude, derogatory remarks aimed at you.  Some of them may be posting anonymously, which is even creepier. You don't even know who to avoid the next day at the water cooler.  Lies can spread faster in this information age than ever before, and once something is out there, there is no bringing it back.

But then, imagine for every rude comment, picture or piece of gossip, there was a flood of positive, encouraging posts.  Imagine how incredible it would feel to see that wall of community moving in around you, blocking, dismissing and closing out the ugly, and filling you with courage, hope and the reality of their love and affection for you.  Nobody's tearing anyone else down.  There is just building up and understanding.  Within the community, you are allowed to talk about your pain and insecurities, to vent your anger and frustration without being judged.  You can cry, and mourn, and be confused, and find your bearing, all in the comfort of nurturing acceptance.

We need to do this for each other, folks.  We need to gather the courage and strength to build a protective wall around those victims of bullying in our midst. We need to keep our eyes and electronic devices open so that we know what is going on and can act accordingly.  We need to take this past Pink Shirt Day.  We need to understand that the point is not to crush bullies. Bullies are often broken people, themselves.  The point is to be a safe, solid place for victims. The point is to say, "No!" to bullying, by forming a shield that it can't penetrate.  To say that this community is here for anyone that needs or wants it, but being a part of it requires respect, honesty, kindness, forgiveness and care.  We build boundaries, not just around ourselves, but around each other.  We pay attention, not just to how we are doing or feeling, but to others as well. We recognize our mutual flawedness, and love each other anyway.

Most importantly, and I know I've said this but it bears repeating, we must take this past Pink Shirt Day.  It must become a way of life.  We can become each other's cheerleaders.  We can even, and this is where it gets hard, be a bully's cheerleader as he or she begins to move out of the rut of anger, fear and aggression and into healthier ways of making relationships.

There is no "not getting involved".  A witness to bullying is involved.  Doing nothing sends a very clear signal. The bully will be grateful for your support. The victim will feel humiliated, wounded and bruised by your betrayal.

I tell my story because I know, know, know that it gets better.  I know what a faithful, loving community can do in the midst of the pain of bullying.  I know it hurts.  If we allow bullies to shut down the voices of those around us, we all miss out.  If we offer support and community, we not only strengthen the voices of victims, but we give them wonderful stories to tell of how it really, truly does get better.  We save lives by reaching out.

Why wouldn't we want to be a part of this?

Just a thought.

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